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Push/Pull

Push/Pull

by Marco M. Pardi

So irresistible is the transformative power of enlightenment that your life seems to be shifted into a new dimension, opened to new and unexpected possibilities.” Eugene Herrigel The Method of Zen.

The action of the creative individual may be described as a twofold motion of withdrawal and return: withdrawal for the purpose of his personal enlightenment, return for the task of enlightening his fellow men.” Arnold Toynbee A Study of History.

All comments are appreciated and will receive a response. Previous posts are open for comment.

Those of us who are parents remember that period when our child was developing the concept of causality. The instant we explained something in what we were sure were age appropriate terms we heard, “Why?” Not wanting to stifle development, we attempted to clarify and enhance the information. And then, “Why?” We entered the ring, convinced that logic and reason would prevail. And got more Why. But some remember a different outcome: “Because I said so. That’s why.”

Though we may not have understood it at the time, this was a foray into the area of potential disconnect between knowing and feeling, the intangible difference between knowing something is so and feeling something is so. That disconnect is not inherently there at birth or through early development. It is developed over time through an enculturation process which greatly values knowledge over feelings. Facts are elevated to the highest position of authority and respect while feelings, senses, are relegated to lower positions as untrustworthy and inferior. Feelings which dare to ascend to the level of fact become beliefs, which you may attempt to counter at your peril. Yet, even Bertrand Russell, the preeminent philosopher of his Age, advised us that, ultimately, everything we think we know rests upon a belief that we are capable of knowing anything at all. This was the famous conundrum of Descartes, about which he threw up his hands and said, Cogito, ergo sum.

But why perpetuate a false dichotomy? Did Socrates rule out the senses and the subjective when he said, Know thyself? Especially in those parts of the world under the influence of Materialist – Reductionist thinking we find at least half the equation missing in a reverse of the common mistake that psychosomatic means “It’s all in your head.” If it were all in your head there would be no soma in that word. The mistake is the presumption that the term means only that a psychic, or mental state caused a particular somatic, or bodily state. The reverse is commonly true. And in the same way we cannot allow ourselves to be just the body without the mind, the soma without the psyche.

Those of us with teaching experience, particularly in higher education, know there are students who learn the material, they know it and mentally file it only until they can vomit it onto a test paper, being careful to not splash outside the box, and it’s gone. They never internalized it, never felt it become part of how they experience the world, much less themselves. They did not have an epiphany. But for those working in the fields of Behavioral Change, internalization is the Holy Grail.

I’m currently working my way through a dense text exploring the latest in archaeobotany and archaeochemistry, in this case the studies of old traces of earlier Man’s activities related to plants and chemicals. True, the going would be a bit tough for the layman, dealing with sequential thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS) applied to residues in drinking vessels and fermentation bowls dating back many thousands of years BCE. But the findings are absolutely startling. As far back as 10,000 BCE, and probably earlier Man (actually women, from all the evidence) developed and utilized effective means not only of fermentation, but of extracting precise measures of naturally occurring psychedelics which, if mixed incorrectly were almost instantly fatal. The ritualized ingestion of these mixtures enabled cognitive expansion into hitherto unseen and unknown dimensions with effects similar to those of N-N-dimethyltriptamine but of longer duration. More than just a light show, these episodes enabled (as they currently do) communication with deceased relatives, friends, and sources of wisdom. And these conveyed verifiable information. Apparently originating in the Levant, these ritual occurrences spread throughout Europe and North Africa though famously associated with Eleusis in Greece. Hence, the Eleusinian Mysteries which, under persecution from the new Christian Rome, evolved surreptitiously into the Christian Eucharist. Later, Church “Fathers” purged women out of all authoritative roles and banned the use of anything but unadulterated wine and simple bread. What had been an intensely subjective experience was flattened into a purely material, objective experience – congregational communion in which nothing happened beyond the swallowing of the approved substances.

Does learning this add to my knowledge base? Yes. Does it change my feelings about the prehistory of self development? Not greatly, but only because I’ve been aware of the probable role of such fungi as Amanita muscaria for decades. But a person encountering this information for the first time must certainly be deeply affected. For me, the information developing in this text simply adds to the early pharmacopoeia we have been rediscovering recently.

In examining the residue evidence for the development of psychedelic cocktails as the crux of such enlightening rituals as the Eleusinian Mysteries and the early proto-Christian Eucharist a number of researchers have opened what Huxley famously spoke of as The Doors of Perception, giving rise to an in-spiration of new knowledge and associated feelings. But let’s look at another opportunity to alter perception. All of us are at least familiar with, and have probably read Homer’s Odyssey. If part of our schoolwork it was probably presented as fictional, epic literature perhaps based in a very few facts, elevating a particular person to heroic status.

But those of us who studied Greek and Latin Classics remember Plotinus (ca, CE 205-270) who, in examining Homeric Greek, decoded the Odyssey not as a simple fable but as a metaphor for our journey through life, and the afterlife. Though he may not have known it, his presentation remarkably tracks the underlying principles in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day (marketed as the Egyptian Book of the Dead) and the Bardo Thodol (marketed as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Who would buy a book titled “Bardo Thodol”? Okay, I would).

Reading this brought a sudden epiphany, a change of perspective from a Ho Hum, another fairy tale to a deeply felt understanding of the importance and personal value of the story. And the lesson in my coming forth by day is that, once again, we must beware the swing of the pendulum, the drive toward Materialist Reductionism. Too many interpret this as “science” when it is in fact scientism – the unrealized felt belief that only objectively measurable knowledge is valid.

Advocating cult-like belief in their inherent correctness, Republican administrations, built largely on the utter ignorance of many voters, especially the under-educated evangelicals, attack science unless it serves to increase their bank accounts or enhance their military weapons. Health and environmental sciences take a horrific beating. Now that we in the U.S. have an opportunity to reverse some of the damage done, we must be vigilant in clearly stating and adhering to the boundaries of what science can and cannot do. As currently practiced, science is empirical. It demands objective and verifiable proof. That’s fine for most, but not all applications. It must not be used, as it has been so often, as a cudgel to subdue and invalidate the subjective. Science does not advance by obsessively poring over what it already knows; it advances by opening the portals into what it does not know. And that often demands a change in perception. Few people seem to realize that the term science is quite recent; we still award the Doctor of Philosophy degree precisely because it is through the open explorations characteristic of philosophy that our knowledge, and hopefully our understanding increases. And as our understanding increases we internalize both knowledge and feeling in balance. We apply our knowledge, not merely recite it.

Yes, that demands an openness to new avenues of perception. Are you tired of pushing on a door designed to be opened by pulling? Perhaps it’s time to change perception.

As a final note I did find a passing comment in this text to be off the mark. In commenting on the immediate efficacy of the psychedelic potion versus “spending a lifetime in a Buddhist monastery waiting for enlightenment” the author seriously mischaracterized the monastic experience, basically as a wasted life when quickee drugs would have done it. I do not subscribe to the use of drugs, though I grudgingly understand them when needed as a “kick in the ass” for the less thoughtful. A realization of one’s self, in its entirety and its context, deeply felt and subjectively understood, can come as easily as changing our perception from push to pull. It’s our materialist enculturation which tells us we can’t be there yet, which tells us to keep pushing. In the same vein, no Zen master or monastic abbot can tell us when we are enlightened. Or not.

Pierian Borderlands

Pierian Borderlands

by Marco M. Pardi

His return repelled by the impermeable membrane which separated him from the “real world”, he drank deeply from the Pierian spring, treasured by the Muses of Macedonia.” Untold stories of Tonio.

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Alexander Pope. An Essay on Criticism. 1709

All comments are welcomed and will receive a response.

These past several months have undoubtedly provided us with unusual amounts of time to ponder our existence, and the continuation thereof. Those of us not given to “binge” watching of television may have increased our reading time, walked in the neighborhood more, cleaned and repaired things around the home, learned how to assist the kids in distance learning, or spent more time meditating about life.

Included in that meditation some of us considered the possibility that Covid 19 might eventually catch us and, especially for those of us older, bring down the curtain on the final act. What has our life been about? Has it turned out as expected, or did we learn to not expect? What little mysteries did we put off until “later”?

One rather minor mystery I’ve actually enjoyed is one I discovered very early. Most of the childhood time I was in my family home was spent alone with a wide variety of books, paintings, and a radio I could listen to. Somewhere in that time I became aware that photographs, though somewhat interesting, were not compelling. They were static, frozen moments in time. Worse, they presented me with immutable fact, leaving me with little or no incentive to wonder. On the other hand, paintings seemed kinetic, somehow living and speaking of a past and a future and encouraging me to ponder a choice not taken. In later years I’ve often said, The camera captures, the brush invites. For me, the camera presents a take-it-or-leave-it fait accompli, a demonstration of mechanical technology whereas a painting invites me to imagine the mind of the artist and how the image developed there and unfolded on the canvas. Would I have seen the subject that way? How might I have done it differently?

The radio programs of the 1940’s to mid 1950’s did the same. They compelled me visualize the characters, the settings, and the broad scope of the timeless context. Even after a tour through the New York studios, watching a man “clopping hooves” onto a specially made pan to produce the sounds of The Lone Ranger’s horse I was afterwards still convinced I was hearing Silver thundering after the bad guy. I had not been locked out of the borderlands of imagination.

Yes, radio. A device largely forgotten except by those who now listen to almost entirely Right Wing “talk shows”. But unlike the hate filled fantasies spun out by the talk shows of today there were engaging programs such as Fibber McGee and Mollie; The Shadow; Sgt. Preston of the Yukon; Amos and Andy; and many others. Some readers may recoil at my mention of Amos and Andy, thinking it impolitic to reference White men mimicking Black men for popular entertainment. I did not see it as prejudiced, and I knew prejudice from the daily taunts of WOP, DAGO and MAFIOSO shouted at me by “American” kids. Their claims of being half this and half that led me to think of them as mongrels, but I did not voice that as it would stoop to their level. But then, turn off the lights, tune the radio to The Shadow and slip across the border as Lamont Cranston stalks the evildoers through darkened streets. Sail the high seas with Horatio Hornblower as enemy ships close around you. Marvel as Tarzan communicates effortlessly with fellow citizens of the jungle. Return to Fibber McGee‘s cluttered but comfortable home as he struggles to outsmart Mollie.

And then television came along. As if movies – “moving pictures” – were not enough, they sought out delinquent theater goers in their homes. And brought us characters who obviously were not from the borderlands. That’s not the Lone Ranger. And “Tarzan” holding in his gut? Anyone who has ever opened a book or listened to a radio series, venturing deeply across the border knows that casting calls almost always miss the mark. Moving pictures, at 32 frames per second (film speed), to fool the mind into thinking it is seeing motion when it is simply seeing a blur of static, take-it-or-leave-it images. We are denied entry into the borderlands, the possibilities conjured in our imaginations.

But at least early television and even film studios were compelled by their primitive technologies to capture credible presentations of something passing as reality. Now we are so accustomed to “special effects” we no longer find ourselves saying, But that’s impossible. We accept unreality as reality.

Through those early years there was “education”, the deadening process of learning versus experiencing. Primary school, three in my case, was learning the correct answers. And learning how to escape into the borderlands without getting caught by the women in Black Robes and their ever present steel edged rulers. Prep school was better, but the men in Black Robes still managed to teach Religion classes as Match the Answer to the Question, not as experiment with a thought and explore your feeling. Static, frozen answers in time. They would still be there whether I accepted them or not. After all, they didn’t belong to me.

And so, retired, sequestered and withdrawn I hear that call, “Follow your dream” and wonder. Did I follow my dream, or someone else’s? What part of life was a dream and what part was just hacking through day by day? Was I even aware it was a dream, those times when I thought I knew someone and it became obvious I didn’t? If we can become distracted, are we ever tracted?

At times I think our culture encourages us to leave the thinking to someone else. It encourages us to accept what we are told is the proper way to react to the “information” we are given and to reject all interest in what may be a larger and truer reality just across the border.

Some years ago, in southern California, I observed a group of people interested in psychic phenomena. During one session the moderator explained a process of handling an object and “psychically” sensing its history. She then passed around a common piece of decorative pottery you would find in many homes and asked one after another to hold it for a few minutes and tell us about it. I knew the moderator had a good knowledge of its history. But as each person took a turn, some seemingly acting very “psychic”, she never betrayed any agreement or disagreement with what the person said. I felt there were several ways to assess the completed process, beginning with a rejection of the standard materialist claim that it was all nonsense. Yes, the moderator very likely did have a history of the object, but what I found more valuable than a “hit” by someone was the exercise itself, in some cases a cautious toes first stepping and in others a full blown stride over the border and into the lands beyond. I don’t recall any “rights” or “wrongs” or any grades given. The object was simply put away and the next topic introduced.

I came away from that with a sense that we do not do enough of active wondering, conjuring if you like, in our lives. We live in the “Information Age” as so many empty vessels waiting to be filled, drained, and filled again until one day we crack down the center and are swept into the discard bin.

As a child I loved museums, even those exclusive art galleries where my family shopped for significant finds. Remember that saying, Cut to the chase? In fact, the chase was the term for the backplate upon which type was set (by typesetters) in preparing newspaper stories for printing. To cut to the chase meant to strip off the stories planted there in preparation for a new story.

Want to take back your life? Cut to the chase, remove the stories other people have set on your backplate and write your own. Who’s to say you are wrong?

And while you’re at it, spend some time in the art galleries of museums near you, and the antiquities galleries. Cross the border, at least for a little while. And drink deeply from the Pierian Spring. Remember, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Call of the Mild

Call of the Mild

by Marco M. Pardi

The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” Charles de Gaulle. Entre Nous. 1967

All comments are appreciated and will receive a response.

Those of you who read my previous post, Older Adoption, may be wondering if anything came of it. Yes. After considering a few dogs, including one from a rescue group that failed to inform me of multiple self-healed injuries to a particular dog (I found these with a cursory exam) and a history of biting, I had come close to giving up. But, members of my family kept pushing. One sent a link to a Husky rescue group about 900 miles west of here, and I decided to file an application. Having had seven Huskies and one Samoyed over the years I was hesitant to consider getting just one as they are definitely pack dogs. However, the rescue group which had her produced an in-depth and credible background discussion indicating she would do well in a one dog household. That, and her estimated age of five years, swayed me to make the trip.

Driving that far gave me plenty of time to reconsider what I was doing. Since I spend so much time alone having a living and interacting being with me would be a plus for mental health. And, since I have an array of “aftermarket parts inside”, as the tee shirt my daughter gave me announces, being required to walk fair distances on a regular basis would be good for me physically. But could I provide a happy home for a remarkably sentient companion? I’ve never been one to simply subject a non-human animal to servitude; years ago I dedicated myself to ensuring my military dog had as happy and enriching an experience with me as possible. We worked as partners, not as master and servant. So, given the lifestyle I now have I chose to adopt a young to middle aged female, less likely to engage in the signature Husky trait: ESCAPE. Still, this would require fencing the yard, even ignoring the existing partial fencing on neighboring yards. Mine has to be Husky proof. And with a large, wooded and hilly lot a seriously competent crew would be required to install a six foot, double gated privacy wooden fence.

And, as soon as I could get her home and receive her medical records I would take her to my regular veterinarian, famously the most expensive around but worth it in my opinion. How would I register her? Of course, I considered Siberian names but those are typically difficult for many people to grasp and I dislike having to correct people multiple times. I also didn’t want the Regime’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) smashing down my door at night to arrest and deport her. Hmmm, Siberia’s status with Russia might endear her to the Trump Crime Syndicate. Oh, well.

I try to stay at one or two syllable names, even though she is purebred. No “Ice Queen Mistress of the Northern Mists” for her. One of my horses was a registered Quarterhorse with a name longer than his mane. But he answered to Hank. So, paleo-linguists will appreciate that I reviewed my understanding of Norse (the root language of Swedish and Norwegian) and chose Freya. Norse: Noblewoman. Pronounced FRAYuh. I Promise not to teach her Swedish; she will learn only English. Of course, she will take time in learning a new name and no one at the rescue group seemed to know her original name, or if she even had one. She was taken by a Sheriff’s Department in some arrest procedure and was bailed out by a Husky rescue group. There’s no indication she’s been charged with any crime.

So, especially given her circumstances, I checked her for submissive behavior, particularly toward males, and for aggressive behavior. Either could indicate a history of significant mistreatment. Her eyesight and hearing are excellent and I could find no evidence of hip dysplasia or esophageal malformation. Her teeth are excellent, suggesting a good diet history. And, she is neither paw or food aggressive. However, unlike other Huskies of mine, she growls demonstrably at some people. That’s unusual for a Husky; they usually give no audible warning. One of my Huskies, a male, strolled into a new vet office for the first time and swept the room with his ice blue eyes. Several other dogs of various breeds climbed frantically onto their owners laps urinating all the way. From that day forward the vet required me to call ahead so they could set aside a private waiting room for us. Some time later that same Husky stood still at the base of a tree and charmed a squirrel right down to inches from his nose. I convinced the squirrel to seek higher safety.

I don’t yet know how Freya reacts to firearms. Since almost everyone we encountered on the trip home and around the neighborhood displays the same response of wanting to come over and pet the “beautiful dog” I am cognizant of the strong traffic in dognapping. I happen to carry a licensed man-shredding handgun and hope I never have to use it on her behalf.

But, happy days and happy nights. I hope readers will consider adopting a rescue dog and providing a good home. Even without the crushing stress of living in these times, I’m sure you would find the rewards far outweigh any inconvenience. One day I’ll post some pictures.

Older Adoption

Older Adoption

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

No, I’m not talking about adopting a senior citizen, or even another human of any age. In six weeks or so it will be one year since I asked our veterinarian to come to our home and perform the last procedure for my canine companion, Plato.

I was inclined to wait a few weeks and then go out to adopt another dog in need of a home. In my mind that was in no way derogatory toward Plato; it was, to me, doing what he would have wanted me to do. But domestic bliss sometimes skates on thin ice and I have waited this long, though I did attempt to examine other dogs.

But during these ten months I’ve had health issues which magnify the question of what would happen to a new adoption were I to become incapacitated or even expire. Of course, this was never not an issue, especially during the many years I lived as a sole human and had dogs, horses, and a cat. I traveled extensively but always had someone “live in”, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. And they had complete instructions covering whom to contact and what to do should they be notified I could not return. Now that I’m as retired as one can be, given my career history, I must consider this issue from a different perspective. Do I want my canine companion to outlive me, or do I want to go through another difficult transition as I outlive them? When it comes to non-humans, I’m not the Angel of Death.

As I watch my 78th year creep toward me over the horizon, why would I adopt another dog? Physician relatives are unanimous in insisting it would be hugely beneficial. It would get me out and walking several times a day, get my mind off the looming disaster descending on our country, and provide a concrete outlet for the feelings I have toward dogs in need. All good reasons, and I’m sure someone can think of more. I have supported numerous organizations dedicated to bettering the lives of practically all life on the planet. But of the reasons I cited above I tend strongly to gravitate toward the last. I don’t like the feeling that I’m using another living being as a tool. As a military dog handler decades ago I worked daily to develop a cooperative relationship with my dog, working with him, not on him. I got in trouble for it, but my methods proved correct in the end.

So, I’m actively looking for a breed I already have experience with and have learned their particular ways of communication. They do have them, you know. Medium sized dogs fit the bill. I’ve never really connected with little dogs, especially with their common yapping and screaming. and very large dogs could prove too difficult to handle especially if coming across another neighborhood dog.

Now comes the question of age. Another puppy is out of the picture. That old commercial, “Don’t leave us with the baby!!!” comes to mind. Unfortunately, they are too needy and too destructive for me at this time in life. I do have a soft spot for “senior” dogs, as they are the least likely to be adopted out of dog pounds and even no-kill shelters. But often there is no history on those dogs, either medical, social, or destructive. So, I’m gravitating toward younger dogs in certified foster care. This usually affords a chance to see a dog in a home setting, perhaps checking for damage around the house, healing wounds or missing fingers on the foster parents, etc.. I would also have the opportunity to find out if the dog is food-aggressive, paw-aggressive (some will rip your hand off if you touch their paws) or dog-aggressive, such as in wanting to fight another dog encountered on a walk. Of course, some breeds are simply out of the running because homeowner’s insurance can be lost the day the company finds out you have one. Years ago I was turned down by a company when they asked if I had a dog and I said, “Yes. A Chow”. End of conversation. Dealing with a fostering rescue group can be far more expensive than a county shelter but getting these questions answered is worth it.

Until three years ago small children would not have entered into the calculus. But then nieces and nephews started getting married like they just heard about it and babies started appearing. While it’s unlikely they would come all the way to Atlanta, it is likely we would have to at some point travel to their neighborhoods. I really dislike leaving my dog in a kennel, though we have relied on a pretty good one during out-of-country travels. When possible, I bring my K-9 companion with me. Hotels and motels along the way are getting more dog friendly. So, the issue of a toddler pulling a tail must be kept in mind.

And speaking of pulling a tail, there’s the issue of allergens and grooming. I’ve had Siberian Huskies and was often told by vets they are “hypo-allergenic”. True, but they can shed whole blankets. Fortunately, I have a large enclosed deck which allows me to groom to my heart’s content. I used to feel slightly guilty about the large tufts of fur drifting through the neighborhood until I found out that several species of birds like to grab it for nest material. Now I just keep quiet if I see a jogger with strange tufts stuck to his or her running suit. The birds will follow them home.

Well, here we are. I hope you’ve had some interesting thoughts while getting this far. When I can figure out how to enclose a picture in this blog you will be among the first to pass judgment on my selection. But please have patience. When I interview a dog I go first to the spirit, not just the nose. If the spirit does not agree we part ways then and there.

Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Over the past twenty years and more the United States has seen increasing evidence of White Power militancy and hoarding of weapons in preparation for some expected internecine conflict. But for most Americans almost all of the evidence has been viewed at a distance, presented in short news stories and the very occasional in depth coverage of such incidents as Ruby Ridge and Waco. The massive death toll at the bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City was glossed over as the work of a couple of deranged individuals. And, particularly after the September 11, 2001 airline hijacking incident the public mind increasingly linked the concept terrorism with foreign Muslim. Meanwhile the White self-styled “militias” increasingly gained the status of heroes and patriots, a bit zealous perhaps but basically good guys.

During several of those early years I worked in a federal counter-terrorism program. But, unlike my superiors, my attention was centered on domestic evidence, threat levels, funding sources, and the ultimate question – Cui bono, usually rendered as “Who benefits?” Yet, my findings and concerns were ignored; the emphasis was instead on shoveling massive amounts of tax payer funds to States and Territories to militarize their police forces in anticipation of a foreign invasion of evildoer saboteurs and wild eyed suicidal terrorists. I eventually chose retirement and more involvement in college teaching.

It is interesting that as I write this the public is being informed of top level Department of Homeland Security attempts to suppress information and findings on the dangers and activities of domestic, predominantly White Nationalist Right Wing groups. More damning is the evidence that Left Wing groups are instead being falsely demonized. But again, these are news reports, seen by many people, internalized by some, ignored by others, and forgotten when prime time viewing airs the current episode of some meat market reality show, or some “crime” show in which the crime will be resolved in an hour.

However, just as I finished the paragraph above I got a notification that the FBI is issuing very serious warnings about the potential for armed violence at polling stations and State buildings on Election Day. The warnings cite high risk from armed Trump supporters trying to coerce voters and erupting in violence should it appear Trump is losing. But again, even with broad coverage on mainstream news, how many people bother with such news anymore?

Apparently, people are forming their opinions from some information sources. Just today it was disclosed that Trump wanted to fire a top level Dept. of Homeland Security official because the official stated for the media that Russia, not China or Iran, is the primary influencer in Trump’s favor. Oh, well, dictatorships control the news. That’s what they do. Maybe we should just get over it.

A couple of days ago I took a car trip. But before doing so I got the emissions check I need for a new license tag. As I flipped open my billfold to select a highly protected credit card the cashier at the auto inspection place, who looked like he just got out of prison, saw my Concealed Carry License. He said, “Joe Biden will take that away from you.” Not wanting a confrontation, I simply said, “I don’t think so.” He then launched into an NRA inspired soliloquy on how “They” would have to come and take his guns off his dead body. Since he had my address, a couple of miles from the shop, I passed on telling him to be careful what he wished for.

We then set off on a trip into the north Georgia “mountains”, not too far from home and just on the border with North Carolina. We selected old State roads over the newer Interstates, giving us a horrendously twisting, climbing passage on very narrow two lane roads but an up close view of “Deliverance” country. Yes, that movie was filmed in the area we were driving. I knew a couple of retired “Feds” who built houses in these woods and who told me, “Don’t piss off the locals”.

With 50 yards or less of forward visibility through the tree lined curves I watched the local mountain boys hurtle their huge and questionably maintained pickup trucks up and down the twisting road like Olympic bobsledders, wondering when our mirrors would clip. Watching those trucks I noticed most of them were festooned with Trump stickers, gun manufacturer logos, and rude messages. I don’t recall seeing Confederate flags.

Each time the road opened a bit we saw houses, some fairly nice and some not so. And, everywhere there was room we saw yard signs for Trump, messages from God, and American flags. At one intersection we saw our first local campaign sign: the candidate’s name over a very large picture of an AR-15. We got the message.

Finally we arrived at the town we wanted and found the apple orchard store we had come looking for. Everyone, including us, wore masks. Must all have been tourists. We spent over an hour getting bags of apples and various other items before loading up and searching for a place for a late lunch. We finally found one. Afterwards, while walking to the car a young couple was walking toward us, she was White and he was Black. He had his head down and looked rather apprehensive. But as he glanced up I nodded, looked him in the eye and said, “How are you doing?” He had a typical startle reaction but smiled and said, “Fine, thank you.” I guess he was expecting something else. In fact, judging by what I had seen in the area I felt that around this region the initials BLM mean Bureau of Land Management.

As we drove off we had to negotiate another few miles of twisting, blind two lane road to get to a major highway back to Atlanta. Coming up on a stop sign we saw a very large billboard advertising an independent pharmacy. The name and logo of the pharmacy were clearly presented over a line of large script which said: Drugs, Guns, Ammunition, Tags. All your shopping needs.

Great! We could load up on opioids, take our pick of guns and load them, and maybe get a tag or two for any “big game” we shot. Couldn’t ask for more. We wanted to photograph the sign, but several factors prevented that: A blind curve behind us meant some mountain boy in a pick-up truck would likely slam into us; there was no place to pull off the road without clearing some trees or driving into a ravine; the license tag on my vehicle is marked with an identifier for an affluent county bordering Atlanta; and, I didn’t feel like engaging in a shoot-out after such a nice lunch. But I do sincerely regret not being able to post the picture, which is still clear in my mind.

So what do we make of all this? Is this just an aberration, a sojourn into The Twilight Zone? Or is this Americana? I’ve lived in or traveled 49 of the 50 U.S. States, North Dakota being the only exception. While working in counter-terrorism I was in frequent contact with State counterparts throughout the U.S.. In several cases I was told that, no matter the attack or disaster, State personnel and vehicles would NOT be sent to certain areas, specifically large compounds of heavily armed self-styled militias and “religious” anti-government groups. “I’m not sending my people out there to get shot to pieces!” I completely agreed.

I’ve been “out of the business” (directly) for a while. But at my last check there were 750 such groups known to still be up and functioning, distributed throughout the entire United States. No State is without at least a few. But it’s important to realize and remember that these are the identifiable groups; they do not include the supporters and the sympathizers. Remember the Olympic bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph? He was a federal fugitive for five years. The public has been told he survived those years by camping in the woods, eating acorns and salamanders, and pilfering dumpsters. Having the training and experience that I do I would consider that possible. But that same training and experience make it very highly unlikely he survived those five years with no human contact. I have never accepted that. Any Agency profiler would tell you his motivations for his actions were fundamentally based in his need for human contact and recognition. Someone supported him, if by no other means than by providing appropriate clothing for the harsh winter seasons in the forest.

In the history of the Great Experiment in Democracy in this country there has always been the assumption that those who supported the losing side in an election would accept the results and try harder the next time. Frankly, I don’t see that happening this time. Some are saying that if Trump wins this could very well be the last free election this country sees. That may be an overstatement, but such an outcome would clearly usher in a dictatorship which, though emboldened to become more visible, has likely learned from others to veil itself in patriotism and religion.

I certainly do agree that this is the most important election of my lifetime. And so I ask again, please vote.

The Political Divide

The Political Divide

by Marco M. Pardi

The differences between the conservative and the radical seem to spring mainly from their attitude toward the future. Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change.” Eric Hoffer. The True Believer.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

Readers throughout the world will agree that all advanced nations have some fundamental document, usually referred to as a Constitution, which enshrines their core values. And, most if not all have mechanisms for formally altering that document should the need arise. But therein lies the rub.

Through most of my life I’ve heard the American political divide stated as Conservative versus Liberal. In the 1960’s, we endlessly heard the term Radical. In recent years we are increasingly hearing the term Progressive. I have never identified as a member, official or merely sympathizer, of any such group. But the question remains: Who’s who?

Until John Kennedy came along my family was knee-jerk Republican, which meant Conservative. Unsatisfied with labels I looked into the values and feelings of that group. And I found what I felt were deep and irreconcilable contradictions. For starters, it seemed the conservatives were dedicated to conserving the values enshrined in the American Constitution without consideration of the accelerating pace of change in every aspect of our lives. Yes, there is a long train of Amendments, but they were grudgingly won in protracted court battles often long after the original petitioners are dead.

But then, as I was growing up in the extremely repressive 1950’s under a “conservative” administration, I noticed that, while “Freedom” was the mantra, there were book and film bannings in several cities and public libraries, words that could not be said and scenes that could not be shown on television, “Public Service” films on television which relegated women to a status about equal to a household appliance and children to indentured servants. “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, which was to be recited with vigor at the start of each school day, whether you believed in a god or not and whether, as I had, you took that oath at your Naturalization Hearing thinking it was a solemn and once in a lifetime oath. (I tried explaining to a teacher that when I took that oath I did not know it had to be renewed every day. Oh, that went well.) In short, the core value of “Liberty for all” was directly contradicted by everyday life.

These contradictions were far more apparent when we looked at the rules and regulations aimed at personal life, such things as sodomy laws, cohabitation laws, abortion laws, etc., versus corporate life and making a profit. Corporations of every type fought hard against every attempt to promote and develop consumer safety, such as in vehicle design; consumer health, such as clean air and clean water regulations; food safety, and the list goes on. In every case the conservative mantra was Deregulate, just as it is today in the conservative camp. Buyer Beware applies today almost as much as ever.

It’s strange that for the last few years conservatives have been praising the “good old days” of the 1950’s when, in the 1950’s, people of the same political and social orientation were praising the “good old days” of a mythical frontier past. Nothing like a good old Tom Mix “western” movie, or a Hopalong Cassidy cowboy series on a Saturday morning. Shoot the bad guys, save the helpless damsel, ride off into the sunset. All without indoor plumbing. The “good old days” meme is less common today, but the drive to squelch advancements in science on every front – except where there is profit to be made, is alive and well.

I didn’t hear the term Liberal much in the 1950’s. I did hear “egghead”, “pointy headed professors” and other pejoratives aimed at anyone who dared to publicly think aloud. They were the “ivory tower” types, probably lurking on elite college campuses and plotting to subvert our virginal youth with their talk of the United Nations and other “world government” cabals. But if there could be anything which drew me to listen and learn, it was people who dared to think aloud.

Now, I should not give the impression I agreed with everything proposed by the Liberal voices. I thought some of it was naive, and even a few steps from self destructive. For example, I watched the rise of communes, and their all but certain demise as they gallantly refused order in favor of “doing your own thing”. But those fledgling efforts were fringe groups, lacking the DNA to grow and replicate. However, what the larger society missed was the principle underlying these efforts: the realization that “It Takes a Village……” and that village is global. When people crow that the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth they must equally realize that powerful nations render effects far beyond their borders. And those effects have consequences. No nation stands for long atop the mound if their actions, or inactions, erode and weaken the very mound upon which they stand. And being the world’s number one exporter of arms, the number one exploiter of all non-renewable resources, and the sole deserter from international accords while it pursues its “Do your own thing” mentality in profit making is simply a version of an imploding commune writ large.

Admittedly, the shift from the largely mythical history of the United States toward being a responsible member of the world community will not happen quickly. But then, quick solutions have themselves become the expectations of too many Americans. In saying the liberal position favors forward thinking while the conservative position favors (often false) memory I am reminded of how I explain the bedrock of science. Science does not advance only by re-inventorying what we’ve known; it advances by asking what do we not know. This brings us up to date with the Progressive movement we are now hearing more of. The title itself should clarify the operant ethic: Progress, but carefully defined and carefully developed.

I remember an ad from the 1950’s, “Progress is Our Most Important Product.” And I remember thinking at the time, But what if what we have works? Progress for the sake of progress leads to abuses, such as charging more for a product simply because it has been redesigned with no clear benefit from doing so. Our politics are a product of our society and while we must be adaptive to new realities we must be equally careful to reject change for the sake of change. This has never been more obvious than in the 2016 Presidential election.

And so, when considering the buffet of political groups on offer, what happens when the diner finds nothing on the table fully appealing? Does she go away hungry, choosing not to vote? Or is she drawn to that sideboard in the corner, the one with the narrow selection called Third Party, or Independent, or Green Party, or whatever is fashionable these days?

Frankly, when I hear of people casting their votes for outliers I think of someone who is asserting a personal position at the cost of a national vote. In other words, throwing away a vote just to feel better. Yes, making a statement is important. But only if someone is listening. Votes cast on the fringe deplete those which could have been cast for a viable candidate, and sometimes contribute to a “spoiler” effect. Votes cast for a statement of principle may be personally satisfying, but masturbation never gave birth to anything.

Democracy has its flaws but totalitarian Fascism is unimaginably worse. In the 2020 election cycle the choice has never been clearer. A common saying in the voting season is, “Hold your nose and make your choice”. Of course, the message is that rarely, if ever, does a candidate or party completely satisfy a thinking voter; there will be areas of disagreement. But the election of 2016 undeniably demonstrated that the United States is running low on thinking voters, or those who can and do think are simply walking away.

Even if you are not eligible to vote, please think, and think aloud. And if you are eligible to vote, please do so in a thoughtful way.

Lipreading in the Age of Covid-19

Lipreading in the Age of Covid 19

by Marco M. Pardi

Trust that man in nothing who has not a conscience in everything” Laurence Stern. Tristam Shandy. 1767

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Read my lips. No new taxes.” So said George H.W. Bush while accepting the Republican nomination for President at the Republican National Convention on August 18th, 1988. We did. And what did we get? New taxes.

While George’s words came back to him in the next election, they should not be called outright lies. Instead, they were more likely a simple display of lack of foresight; he had little idea of the quicksand his policies were developing and how they would inevitably swallow him. So even after eight years serving as our de facto President while the former actor Ronald Reagan watched his old movies, napped, and read his lines as directed, G.H.W. Bush was unable to carry out his official four year term without facing reality.

This time is different. We have a carnival barker for a president, a man for whom several “fact checkers” have documented in excess of 20,000 outright lies or deceptive statements since taking office. It would seem the fact checkers could dramatically lighten their load by switching to documenting the vanishingly rare truthful statements that may have inadvertently escaped him.

Most of Trump’s lies are so transparent they need no in-depth analysis. More concerning, however, are seemingly casual statements which go unchallenged. For example, his administration has pushed through a record number of right wing extremists to appointments as federal judges. Most of these have been below public scrutiny. But in more high profile appointments Trump routinely claims he has known the person for a very long time and has admired his work. Two questions should immediately arise: When selecting a person in a far flung region of the United States how does a five or six time bankrupt real estate grifter from New York City know this person “for a very long time”? Trump was a registered Republican in 1987. But between then and 2015 he switched his party five times, from Republican to Democrat to Independence Party of New York and back and forth as the wind blew. So how does a person with no firm and long lasting political convictions “admire the work” of anyone for a “very long time”?

It seems to me the answers are obvious. He has no idea who these people are and no idea of their judicial record. What he does have an idea of is the desire of the cabal of neo-fascists who are using him to further their own ends. They prevented his removal from office subsequent to his impeachment, thereby interrupting what should have been his frog-march into a Southern District of New York criminal court on bank fraud and tax evasion charges. Donald J. Trump is merely the mask hiding the lips of the ultra-right neo-fascist party which has been masquerading as the Republican Party since the late 1970’s. Unfortunately, unlike the surgical masks worn during this pandemic, the mask known as Trump will far more likely infect people than protect them. That seems to be the reason his party dd not dispose of him when he was impeached.

Who are the other players in this Kabuki theater? Actually, though they may not realize it, the rest of the planet has existential stakes in the coming presidential election. On one measure alone, impact on the environment, the neo-fascist party has already rolled back or eliminated every safeguard put in place by previous administrations. Some Americans may dream of escaping this nightmare by moving to some far off country. But the reality comes home quickly enough when air currents from unregulated U.S. industries, energy conglomerates, and motor vehicles bring particulates which alter worldwide weather patterns and poison those often advertised exotic springs from which so many people derive their over priced bottled water.

More specifically, both the American National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have found that the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie (GRU), Russian Military Intelligence, is using a hacking tool code named “Drovorub” to break into an operating system used across many computer server infrastructures. The specific team identified is the 85th Main Special Service Center (GtsSS) and the military unit is 26165. The Chinese are also separately involved but, unfortunately, the Ministry of State Security, the Guoanbu, is practically opaque to Western Intelligence. And, of course, the Iranians are in the mix. The Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, more easily referenced as the VAJA, is deeply entrenched in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to name a few countries.

The Russian intent, as made clear by Vladimir Putin, is much more targeted than his directed efforts at disrupting the 2016 elections; the intent is specifically to ensure that America’s most incompetent and dangerous president is re-elected. Putin has been, and is being quite candid about this. On the other hand, China has made it clear that they “favor” a Joe Biden presidency.

How is it that two totalitarian States have such different outcomes in mind? For starters we can say that each and every Putin wish has been granted at least partially if not fully. From the start of Trump’s presidency there have been serious questions of whether Russia holds extremely damaging “kompromat” on Trump, making him a 21st Century version of The Manchurian Candidate.

China, on the other hand, holds massive American debt. A three millennia long player in international trade and politics, China plays the long game, knowing that delayed payment is better than no payment because your debtor is defunct. And, the debt can always be played to extort concessions from the United States in the Pacific Region. For this to work, the debtor country must have stable and sane leadership, not an unpredictable and pathologically ill President – even if he is only a mouthpiece for an equally ill cabal.

So, as we move toward the countdown to elections we are likely to see the thoughts and tactics of Hitler and Goebbels put once again into action: In his excellent book, The Coming of the Third Reich, Richard J. Evans quotes from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that good propaganda speaks to feelings and not reason and that “it should never admit a glimmer of doubt in its own claims, or concede the tiniest element of right in the claims of the other side”. Sound familiar? It should. It is the daily lip-synch from the Oval Office.

Of course, it must be obvious whom I will vote for, but the critical task ahead of those of us who care is to help others understand what they will be hearing and seeing over the next couple of months. In her excellent book, The End of America, Naomi Wolf advises us that, “Dictatorships specialize in faking news and falsifying documents. Hitler wrote that ‘all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand.’… To back up its disinformation campaigns, such regimes often rely on false documents. These counterfeit documents often assert that there is a threat to the home population.” Does “The Deep State” come to mind?

Trump himself has given his blessings to the Q-Anon cult. This mixed confederation gave us the famous claim that the Clintons were running a child abduction and sexual slavery ring out of the basement of New York pizza parlor. An armed man drove several hundred miles to rescue the children, charging into the place and shooting up the store only to find there was no basement. That’s the power of repeated propaganda.

In all fairness, the word propaganda began as a neutral term. It simply means to propagate or dispense or disseminate an idea or claim; it does not in and of itself indicate the claim is true or false. However, over the years the word itself has become a pejorative. If someone wants to label the claim of another as ipso facto false, they label the claim “propaganda”, and it does the job. So while lips will be moving all around us as they voice claims, it will be up to us to read them and determine their veracity.

In the hands of amateurs propaganda can be amusing. A current example is the intense television video depicting Joe Biden as responsible for needlessly ruining the lives of thousands by initiating and supporting Draconian laws which put many in prison for unjustly lengthy terms. The video was directly aimed at the African-American population. But then the Black Lives Matter demonstrations captured the news nationwide and, though it was obvious that agent provocateurs (a time-worn Republican tactic) infiltrated the demonstrations and fomented the violence and burning, many people became concerned over the call to defund the police. Actually, defund was a poor choice of words, like global warming instead of climate change. The philosophy of defunding was aimed at reducing the police capabilities to arm themselves with military hardware appropriate to invasion of another country and redirecting that funding toward increased training and community outreach. But, like global warming, the term stuck.

(The original video depicting Biden as a law and order zealot has been pulled from the airwaves. It would have directly contradicted the next false message.)

Suddenly, the Republican propaganda machine shifted to depicting Joe Biden as favoring defunding and even eliminating police (he certainly does not, and has said so repeatedly). Now we are bombarded with claims that a Biden election will bring chaos, anarchy, the end of civilization, insurmountable danger to our children, and other unpleasant disasters. But the fact is that Trump himself initiated efforts to monetarily defund police across the nation to the tune of half a billion dollars. Biden is against monetary defunding, Trump is for monetary defunding, but the propaganda still plays to the fears and ignorance of the population.

Ultimately, the ability to read lips and discern the meaning comes from sound and developed education. Our national pause as we contend with Trump’s utterly failed management of the pandemic response has hopefully afforded many the time and opportunity to better prepare themselves for the decision they will render in November. If you are eligible to do so, please vote.

The planet you save may be your own.

Buyer’s Remorse

Buyer’s Remorse

by Marco M. Pardi

I regret nothing, says arrogance; I will regret nothing, says inexperience.” Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. Aphorisms

All comments are welcome and all previous posts are open for comment.

In the past few months I’ve read, seen, and personally heard a remarkable number of seemingly otherwise intelligent people expressing regret for having voted an utterly incompetent con man and fraud into the Presidency of the United States. I say seemingly otherwise intelligent because I’m mystified by why they would have bought into the lies and deception and voted that way in the first place. But then, many of these people were “single issue voters”, as in the “Right to Life” crowd – a vile misnomer which should read “Right to Birth” – who hoped this candidate would end abortion and even contraception. In essence, their magical belief in the full humanness of a fertilized egg helped elect an administration with social, military, environmental, anti-science, and foreign affairs policies that doom millions to an early death while destroying the lives of countless species on this planet. Of course, there were other agendas as well, such as those who hated Hillary Clinton but could not articulate a single coherent reason why.

There have been many articles and books published on why we vote the way we do, even strongly against our own best interests. Yet, distilling population data down to the individual with whom you are speaking still leaves a void. I perceive that void as the individual psyche, an amorphous cloud of emotions, biases, prejudices, and beliefs hopefully overseen by a governing body of rational thought. But what happens when the governing body loses its grip?

I’m not a psychologist, although one of the federal agencies for which I worked classified me as “psychological anthropologist” so I could travel widely and freely doing what I do best. But after seven decades of observing and listening I am still occasionally surprised when I hear someone I “know” say, “Well, I voted for Trump but I won’t again.” Is it the person of Trump they are disillusioned with, or have they realized the agenda of the people who ushered Trump into place? A few simple and non-threatening questions often bring out the answer, and usually it is the former: disillusionment with the man. Typically, they didn’t give much thought, if any, to the horde of flesh eating parasites hiding in Trump’s shadow, even after so many of them were dragged into the sunlight and dismissed and/or convicted.

That leaves me with the feeling that this now remorseful person remains vulnerable to the next demagogue that group of parasites loquaciously props in front of us. In sum, no great epiphany has occurred, the person with whom I’m speaking remains the same. So how do we reach the multitudes still out there?

In the early years of the Viet Nam misadventure we tried the “Hearts and Minds” approach, attempting to sway the South Vietnamese population to see us as allies and friends. The Tip of the Spear was the military group known as the Green Berets. Trained in the local language, field medicine, and the fundamentals of the culture, they quickly gained the sobriquet “Armed Anthropologists”. Well, we saw how well that worked out.

But it wasn’t an ill informed policy. Years earlier we saw how the failed Presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson was brought down by common sentiment labeling him as “effete, an egghead”, and other aspersions directed at his intelligence. Clearly, an appeal to the collective intellect of the American voters was doomed at birth. An appeal to where the voters “lived”, that is, to their feelings, beliefs and emotions, may have worked far better. Facts and logic cannot gain traction in a vacuous mind. The Stevenson campaign failed to recognize that.

We saw repeatedly throughout Donald Trump’s campaign rallies that he aimed for the heart, not the head. As he strutted before his audiences the camera panned over seas of vapid, pre-orgasmic faces waiting suspensefully for his next inane, titillating claim. And the show went on.

Even now, though the rallies have dwindled in attendance for various reasons, the effects are manifest in the numbers of people refusing to wear masks during a nationwide, indeed worldwide pandemic. We so often hear the mythical refrain, “It’s about my personal freedom”, a core value in American life. But it’s not about personal freedom; it’s about one’s sense of responsibility to others. However, that calls for an exercise in logic, albeit simple, and those neural cells are just not active, if there at all.

About a year ago some in-laws and friends came for a visit. We had a mixture of three different languages represented and the accents were quite thick, sometimes making it easier to just drift into another language. One asked me why, after years of speaking English, she still spoke with an accent whereas I had none. I explained the large and universally flexible neural network associated with speech and how, in early speech development, our significant others reward some sounds and discourage others thus rewarding some neural pathways and allowing all the others to fall into disuse and become difficult to bring into use. Essentially, why children are more able to successfully become multi-lingual than are adults. I think the same applies, to some degree, in the development of other – directed logical thinking versus self – directed emotional feeling. If we do not stress thinking of others to children we must not be surprised when they grow into an adult who thinks only of his own wants and needs versus those of others. And I think this applies to “anti-vaxers” and anti-abortion/contraception people as well. In their mythical and magical little worlds they fail to see the damage they do to others, becoming reservoirs for disease, allowing their children to be at risk, and relegating women to the status of brood mares while at the same time voting to cut social and financial support to the resulting children.

Just as we take our time with children as they learn to form and properly employ words, we must do so with the development of logical thought and the calculation of consequences. In fact, this practice would be helpful in immediate ways as children enter school. For example, mathematics is logic expressed as numbers. Of course, the process of learning takes time but the earlier we start the easier it will be. I remember when high schools offered courses such as Home Economics. These should be reinstated nationally as required courses which include in depth learning about the environmental and social impacts and costs of products used in our everyday homes. Sex Education should be taught in every school with an emphasis on contraception and the long term costs of raising a child.

Admittedly, enrolling a formed adult in this process presents far greater challenges. Certainly, the easier course would be to claim these people are beyond repair and just hope the next generation corrects the problem. But the very existence of the next generation is mortally threatened by the actions of this one. There will be those we are tempted to give up on – “He’ll never change…” – and there will be those whose expressed logic is still heavily accented with personal biases, prejudices, and beliefs. But there are ways to start. One simple starting point is with the advertising industry. The messaging has to change from, Do you want this to Do you need this. Every item or consumable over a certain dollar amount must carry an equal time message stating its long term cost, the environmental cost of its production, transport and storage, and the social impact of these costs.

Churches that teach the “Prosperity Gospel”, that some God wants you to be rich and prosper, should be fully taxed in amounts commensurate with the damage to society and the environment their nonsensical myths are bringing. There are no socially redeeming qualities in the wanton destruction of the environment.

So, I recoil internally when I hear someone express remorse over having voted for the voracious locusts now holding most of the power in this country. Far more than what these late-comers feel, I want to know what they will do. I think two of the most overly used words in any language are, “I’m sorry”. Show me, don’t tell me. As the old Hollywood adage goes, Talk’s cheap.

Tough Love

Tough Love

by Marco M. Pardi

If you are visited by pain, examine your conduct.” TALMUD. Rabbinical writings.

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I should have read the Talmud before beginning school. Paddled by nuns, pounded by monks, I took a while to review and restructure my oblique deviousness and make it into a successful career. But those injuries healed long ago. And, without doubt, many would agree I must have learned something from them. Which brings me to the pains of the present day and what lessons may be learned therein.

I’ve written several times of the recent developments in the United States, chiefly the emergence of the decades old American Fascist Party now dressed as Republicans. And, I’ve written of the increasing global threats to most life forms as these same people dominate the industries which, for their short term economic gain, are polluting and killing this planet beyond repair. But some readers might wonder how else I spend my day.

I subscribe to and/or belong to at least fifty organizations ranging from medicine to politics, science to environmental and animal rights, and national and international social issues. Consequently I receive hundreds of emails daily, about half of which enable me to take action in some form. Careful to avoid sitting too long at a stretch, I pace myself with two to three hours dealing with these emails interspersed with other activities. So, I average a bit over six hours daily reading and engaging where I can. But lately something has been developing in my consciousness: More than just the nagging thought that many of my petitions and carefully crafted letters fall on blind eyes, or never reach the addressed person anyway (my State is firmly Republican; every meaningful state office is in those hands), I’ve begun to wonder if trying so hard to help people is in fact enabling the problems from which they are suffering.

I have always reacted on behalf of the dis-empowered, be they human or non-human. Very early in my college teaching career I was the age of the average student. That, and my subject matter, encouraged students to seek my advice and, sometimes, help in personal matters. One student was having an ongoing battle with alcohol. He and his mother were quite poor and his mother was disabled. Several times his mother, or a friend, called me to come over and talk him through another bout. And, several times I took him to county detox to get dried out.

But then a young woman came to me and asked if I would accompany her to an Al-Anon meeting. She was afraid to go alone. It was at that meeting that I first heard the concept of “Enabling”. I was so stricken by the clarity and sense that the next time I got that call to talk Xxxx through a bout I told his friend and his mother to just lock him out of the house. They did. Not long after, he enlisted in the Army and got straightened out. He was not the only one I “closed the door” on. Al-Anon also said a person has to recognize and acknowledge they have a problem. And for some, that comes only when they “hit bottom”.

Almost 20 years later, after working in field epidemiology for just over six years, I transferred into research at the Atlanta headquarters of the Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. I had been working in Public Health clinics in several cities, dealing with cases of sexually transmitted diseases. The research division I entered in Atlanta dealt with HIV/AIDS. So, the physicians I worked with were curious about my work background. Most of them had no idea CDC posted clinicians around the country to deal with STDs. And, they were appalled that the services provided were not only absolutely free, but must be provided even if the patient refused to disclose his or her sexual contacts. I heard a very resounding chorus of “ENABLING” from my gathered colleagues. They were outraged. What they said was perfectly logical, and all I could offer in return was that these policies were effective in getting people to come in for treatment and that we did manage to treat a good percentage of contacts. Contact tracing. But, I did have to admit that a very high percentage of patients were multiple repeat infections who knew they had a free “fixer” at their nearby clinic.

But this was a few levels up from letting a repeat drunk sleep it off in the bushes. I thought about the daily parade of hostile patients, the times I, and others under my supervision, got assaulted, the “You gotta treat me” expressed by so many, and the intense pressure from state and federal levels to “crank out the numbers”. I thought about how my most dire, and I thought effective, warnings to patients apparently meant nothing as I saw them again and again. And then I thought of the babies born with congenital syphilis. I thought of the unsuspecting sex partners now infected with HIV, for which there was no treatment in sight at that time, the babies born addicted to drugs and condemned to lives in this morass we call the “underserved populations”. Alcoholics Anonymous, a blatant religious cult despite its denials, preaches of a “spiritual awakening”. What, if anything, would awaken these people?

And so, as I write this, I have an email page open to the hundreds of emails I receive daily. Many of them are from environmental and animal welfare groups I’ve subscribed to and supported for many years. Others are from social issue and political groups I’ve subscribed to in the past few years. How many petitions will I sign and send today? Probably close to one hundred. How many letters will I craft to politicians, from the President down to the local dog catcher? Probably a dozen or more. And how many petitions for increased financial aid to the now unemployed, and those about to be evicted, and those with dwindling food supplies, and whatever other crisis is put before me will I sign and send today? I don’t know. My keyboarding fingers, 5 out of 10, are slowing as I wonder if I’m not ENABLING the “I’m aboard, pull up the ladder” mentality of those who voted the current regime into power, those who were in their “comfort zone” and so couldn’t be bothered to vote and those who voted the “Tea Party” and other sociopaths into Congress before bothering to find out they were distinctly unqualified, those who openly committed to making the Presidency of a Black man a failure even if their actions brought the country down around them. Are these people like the student I “helped” whenever he needed it? Are they like the STD patients who know there will always be someone there to medicate them for free? Can a person hit bottom if we rush to place a safety net under him every time he does something stupid? Does a person feel he has a problem when there is always someone there to solve it for him? I hear so many express a desire to get things back to the way they were. But I am convinced that a person who has truly learned from a crisis does not wish to return to the circumstances, however pleasant they may have been at the time, which got him into the crisis. People who talk of “returning to normal” do not recognize and acknowledge what normal actually was.

And yet, I am deeply aware of the collateral damage. I will forever carry the memories of the children I saw living in hunger and squalor while their mothers “ran the streets” trading sex for drugs. I understood those children in ways many do not. My daughter has the family albums showing my brother and me as “very slim” figures during WWII in Italy; the occupying Germans stole all the nutritious food. I was three years old and standing in baby shoes; the occupying Germans stole most of the clothing. I’m nearing 80 years old and carry the effects of inadequately treated childhood Pertussis; the occupying Germans stole most of the medicines. So, no one needs to tell me to think of the children when considering the limiting or withholding of the safety nets.

So the classic “I hope he’ll be okay” when locking someone out of the house, and the “we do what we can do” when treating unnecessary diseases morphs into a new paradigm: By always jumping in and supporting people are we in fact preventing them from recognizing and acknowledging the problem, or must we let them hit bottom and accept the collateral damage?

Returning to “normal” would be the worst thing we could do. It was a fantasy built on unseen suffering for far too many, and a tragic cost to the environment that was far too much. Major changes are needed. But will a society addicted to a fantasy actually feel the need to change? Without hitting bottom? Is rushing to place safety nets the way to bring “spiritual awakening”?

This blog is read in many countries. I know I can speak for several of the regular commenters when I express the hope that we will be privileged with comments from those who have not yet done so. And, for everyone, thanks for what you do.

Lemmings

Lemmings

by Marco M. Pardi

The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass-movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the single-handed defiance of the world.” Eric Hoffer. The True Believer.

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Remember the lemmings? As a young boy I heard the myth of these small rodents racing en masse over cliffs to die on the rocks below. Each was driven by an impulse to suicide. Not being inclined to believe stories, I put that in my Maybe file. I was unaware of the fact this myth was centuries old and that some recent film makers had actually thrown lemmings off cliffs in making a film to further that myth. In fact deaths do occur during mass migrations, but not from suicide.

Another example of seemingly reckless behavior is found among the Wildebeests who migrate from Tanzania’s Serengeti plain to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Most of us have seen films of them rushing across a river while crocodiles feast on the young, the old, and the infirm. But this migration is driven by climate, not despair.

Today, while the facts of incidental deaths during mass migrations are more commonly understood, the principle underlying the myth still points uncomfortably toward demonstrable tendencies in human populations.

In his 1979 book, Piercing the Reich, Joseph E. Persico recounts an episode I had heard several times before. An agent recruited by the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA) had successfully infiltrated into Berlin during the last months of WWII. As the city was being reduced to rubble by Allied bombers he asked a Berliner, “Why does the entire nation choose to commit suicide for the sake of one lunatic?”

The man answered, “It’s difficult to get the lunatic certified. He happens to be director of the asylum.”

Does this sound familiar? It should. Among several analyses by trained and experienced professionals a recent letter to Congress signed by over 350 psychiatrists, CIA Profilers, and other mental health professionals warned that the mental health of Donald Trump, titular President of the United States, is deteriorating rapidly and presents a danger to the United States. Another 37 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers said in a joint letter that President Donald Trump is unfit to be president.

“We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.”

It should be noted that these and similar letters and opinion pieces were written and publicized long before the Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic meltdown. That is, they were formed before Mr. Trump claimed the virus was a Democratic hoax intended to discredit him, that the virus would disappear in warm weather “like a miracle”, that wearing a mask was for sissies and ingested or injected bleach would clear out the virus. As of this writing the U.S. death toll stands at over 135,000, many attributable to the weeks long delays in any responses or actions taken by the administration charged with protecting the safety of the American people.

But while the administration advised us to “not believe everything you see or read” scientists and scientific institutions began finding their voices. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading Infectious Diseases expert in the United States – and much of the world, and the Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – CDC, emerged from scrambled first responses to positions of internationally recognized authority. CDC, a preeminent scientific institution always muzzled each time a Republican administration takes power, is regaining its voice in the face of outright lies spoken by a former game show host and repeated by the man who claims to be “President”.

However, the emergence of Dr. Fauci and the CDC is apparently threatening to this person, characterized by lifelong Profound Narcissism and Sociopathy. Whitehouse officials have acknowledged that a large part of Trump’s antipathy to Fauci stems from the much more favorable media “ratings” accruing to Fauci.

Yet, as of this writing the collated national polls show a disapproval rating for Trump of 55.6% and an approval rating of 40.3%. Some might take heart in the higher disapproval rating, but 40.3% is a far higher percentage than that of lemmings lost on a migration or Wildebeests culled by crocodiles. It strongly suggests that a major part of the electorate is unable to process factual information coming at them daily.

Perhaps the most ironic part of this is that getting Trump elected seems not to have been the primary focus of Vladimir Putin, rather it is the icing on the cake of sewing broad and crippling distrust in the democratic process itself. And who, after seeing what had been believed to be the least likely outcome of a democratic election held by mature and educated people, would not wonder that something had gone terribly wrong with the democratic process? Looking at the comprehensive economic and environmental wreckage and the hardened polarization among previously amiable co-workers, neighbors, and even family members, that’s got to be some cake Putin got.

By the way, for those who point to the pre-pandemic employment figures and the stock market, please realize those gains were made almost entirely by de-regulation of everything from the safety of your drinking water to the air you breathe and the products you buy and use, including previously somewhat safe food. And, look closely at the employment figures. When they are taken from employer reports they fail to recognize that two or three employers may have hired the same person; many people have two or three jobs due to the low pay and poor or absent benefits in any one of them. The stock market is not an index of how the economy is presently doing. It is an indicator of how the economy is expected to do. People buy stocks in a company on the expectation the company will increase its earnings, not on how the company is currently doing. In short, such investment is a gamble of investing in an imagined outcome. Look at the people who lost fortunes on the “dot-com” bust. How many lemmings went over that cliff?

Readers of this site know that I’ve written extensively of the development of Fascism in the United States. Interestingly, despite Donald Trump’s posturing and gestures imitating Mussolini, I don’t credit him with being intelligent enough to understand and follow an established system of political thought. To the extent that his expressed philosophy and actions do resemble those found in Fascism it is only an incidental resemblance provided by his truly Fascist handlers. So, instead, I credit the American Fascist Party of the 1930’s and early 1940’s which went underground during WWII and re-emerged in the late 1970’s with Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell as their chief puppet and chief spokesperson respectively. For background I refer the reader to Chris Hedges’ 2006 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the war on America.

I remember an advertising slogan from “Madison Avenue” that said basically, “A million people can’t be wrong!” Well, over 67 million people voted for Trump and other “Republican” party candidates. I’m no expert on lemming populations but this seems to be an unusually large wave eager to race over a cliff. Ordinarily I would stand aside and bid them farewell. But this wave threatens to take much of the rest of life on this planet with it. Like potential stock investors, we might examine this prospectus and wonder if this is a company in which we want to invest; is this a company with a future?

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